It took a few years, another corporate merger, and the opening of a new plant in Detroit to finally deliver on the elusive three-row SUV.
Years ago, I remember when the late Sergio Marchionne was asked about the future of the Jeep lineup. It was already established that the legendary brand would become a global brand under the merger that he melded together.
It took a few years, another corporate merger, the opening of a new plant in Detroit, and a brand-new generation of a well-loved and popular model to finally deliver on the elusive three-row SUV.
The result is the 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L.
Under the leadership of Stellantis North America, the WL Grand Cherokee began life as the first product to come down the new Mack Avenue Assembly Plant in Detroit. To develop the new generation platform, Stellantis wanted to ensure that it will be versatile to incorporate two- and three-row versions, along with the power plants and driveline Jeep customers expect from their mid-size SUV offering.
Sounds like this should be a good SUV. That is what we expect from Jeep, right?
Exterior-wise, it offers a lot of luxury for its larger size. For the extra seven inches, you get a more formal look overall. The trademark seven-slot grille is more upright. That created a flatter hood over the outgoing WK2 Grand Cherokee. The roofline is obviously longer with a larger side glasshouse and larger doors than before. The liftgate is larger, while sporting a new set of slim horizontal LED taillights.
My tester happens to be the top-of-the-line Summit Reserve trim level. It sported a two-tone paint job where the second color creates a floating roof motif. Finishing out the look is a set of 21-inch wheels that gave the Grand Cherokee L presence not unlike a premium SUV.
Interior-wise, it is very elegant. This is a word you did not expect to see describe a Jeep’s interior, but please consider the past where “luxury” was achieved with a degree of leather with plenty of ruggedness expected in a Jeep. However, the Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve is truly an elevated experience.
My tester was equipped with a 10.25-inch fully digital instrumentation screen that is highly customizable. Although the screen I eventually settled on gave me all of the information I needed at the expense of the size of the speedometer and tachometer. Luckily, this tester had a head-up display for the speed. All controls were accessible and tactile. That includes the rotary shifter controls and the drive modes.
The center stack is dominated by a 10.1-inch Uconnect 5 touchscreen. The system included wireless smartphone integration and wireless device charging. I also enjoyed the 19-speaker McIntosh audio system, which provided clean sound throughout the cabin. If you go through then apps section of the Uconnect 5screen, click on the McIntosh icon and your audio screen become two VU meters. I was mesmerized – at stop lights, that is.
This Summit Reserve tester sat six people across three rows. The second-row captain’s chairs had its own console in-between them. Third-row access was as simple as a lever, helped by large rear doors. Up front, I sat in a firm, but nicely bolstered seat with plenty of power controls for height, rake, recline, and lumbar support. It did ease up a bit after a few stints behind the wheel.
As for cargo, you start off with a nice 17.2 cubic feet of space behind the third row. Press the buttons on the side to power-fold the third row to expand the space to 46.9 cubic feet. You can power-fold the same seats up by pressing the same buttons. You also can power-fold the second-row seats down. While you expand the cargo space to a maximum of 84.6 cubic feet, you will have to raise the second-row seats back up manually.
Powering this tester is the standard 290-horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. It provided a good amount of power overall, thanks to its eight-speed automatic transmission and the superb Quadra-Trac II four-wheel drive system. While the V6 powers a 5,086-pound three-row SUV, it can also tow up to 6.200 pounds.
As far as fuel economy is concerned, I averaged 16.4 MPG. The reasons – perhaps excuses – for this low of a fuel consumption figure would be due to a typical Minnesota winter…yeah, let’s go with that!
If you are looking at a Grand Cherokee L, consider one with the Quadra-Lift air suspension. You could adjust the ride height through the toggle switch or let it match the drive mode. For example, if you switch the Grand Cherokee L into Snow mode, the ride height will lift a notch to allow for snow drifts and unplowed streets. If you’re on the highway, it will automatically lower to restrict the amount of air flowing underneath the SUV.
In all, the Grand Cherokee L offers a smooth ride for the family. It does respond to work through rougher roads, but not enough to cause issues to you and your passengers. The suspension also does a good job keeping the Grand Cherokee L controlled through some evasive maneuvers.
The steering system offers a solid weight and on-center control. Yet, I felt that I needed to work a bit more for precise maneuvers into parking spaces and tight turn situations. The braking system is good with solid pedal feel and response down to the rotors. The system provided good stops in normal, panic, and winter situations.
As for pricing, my 2021 Grand Cherokee L Summit Reserve tester arrived with a sticker price of $67,090. It may seem steep for a three-row mid-size SUV, but please consider that this is a premium product that is aimed at both mainstream and luxury offerings. Pricing for the entire three-row Grand Cherokee L starts at $39,200 with six trim levels to choose from.
The 2022 Grand Cherokee L lineup will get a slight price increase from the 2021 models. The Laredo 2WD model will jump up $85. The two-row Grand Cherokee is coming soon, starting at $37,785.
If there were any doubts that the Grand Cherokee L was what Jeep’s customers wanted all along, they were set aside quickly. It has ambitions and aspirations that matches what Stellantis wanted for their customers. It continues to build upon Jeep as a destination brand for customers looking to move up from mainstream vehicles, while satisfying current Grand Cherokee owners.
It took a while for Jeep to deliver a three-row SUV to its loyal customers. Their patience will certainly be rewarded. The Grand Cherokee L shows us what Stellantis wants to Jeep to be for its global customer base. At least in North America, its customers will take one home without having to shop the segment.
The Jeep brand means a lot to us, no matter how many rows you put in any of their vehicles.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Stellantis North America
All photos by Randy Stern